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Gray Whale Watching Migration & Western Monarch Butterflies – What Do They Have in Common?

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You may think that no two things are as different as gray whales and Monarch butterflies. However, these species do have a few things in common. This is what you should know about the migration of gray whales and western monarch butterflies.

Gray Whale Migration

Did you know that gray whales travel up to 14,000 miles during migration? Most of these massive mammals spend their summers near the arctic circle, feasting on a hundred pounds of bottom-dwelling marine invertebrates, such as larval crabs, amphipods, and shrimp, every day. Then, in the fall, they begin their journey to Southern California, from San Francisco to Northern Mexico, to have their young.

The gray whale migration in California is fraught with dangers, from becoming tangled in commercial fishing gear to getting struck by boats. In addition, they experience disorientation and stress and have difficulty communicating due to underwater noise pollution, including sonar. Offshore oil and gas production has also degraded their habitats.

Although they tend to live up to 80 years, they are endangered. Therefore, conservation efforts have begun. The goal is to reduce commercial fishing interactions, reduce or minimize the effects of noise and vessels and encourage education about gray whales.  

Western Monarch Migration

Western monarch butterfly migration occurs in the spring and fall. During the spring, these butterflies move from their winter homes in Southern California to summer homes in the Northern Rocky Mountains. These butterflies travel up to 2,400 miles every spring and fall, going through several life cycles to make it to their winter and summer homes.

For example, reaching the northern United States and Canada takes up to five generations of butterflies. Therefore, they mate, lay their eggs, and die several times during the trip. Each successive generation moves further north. During the fall, they stop mating and move south, living up to eight months.

These species also face several dangers on their migration paths. They experience lost habitat because milkweed is often killed rather than planted. They also are vulnerable to predators. Using toxic chemicals on plants and urban development also threatens this species.

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What Do They Have in Common

Both gray whales and western monarch butterflies spend their summers up north and their winters in Southern California. Both are endangered species that face many threats, including human threats. They offer a great show during the summer in California as they nestle in for the winter.

How To Save the Butterflies

Did you know that monarch butterflies are endangered? Eastern monarch butterfly populations decreased from 1996 to 2014 by 84%. There are a few things you can do to help increase this population.

Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, so they plant some—butterflies like nectar-producing plants, such as purple coneflower, aster, and culver’s root. Choose various plants, including trees, shrubs, flowers, and native grasses, that provide diverse feeding opportunities and healthy ecosystems. You can also volunteer to create or restore natural habitats.

Choose native plants and flowers that haven’t been treated with pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, or herbicides. These chemicals are killing bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Do not spray your land with mosquito-killing chemicals. Instead, choose more natural prevention methods, such as eliminating standing water and unclogging gutters.

Finally, share what you learn about butterflies and their needs with those around you. Encourage them to plant butterfly-friendly areas and avoid using harmful chemicals on their plants.

As you visit Southern California during the winter months, consider a responsible gray whale-watching excursion and check out the thousands of monarch butterflies in the area. Ponder the incredible journeys these species take twice a year, and learn how you can help protect them.